Many people will tell you that search engine optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically over the years. They’re talking about Pandas and Penguins…it’s a little hard to keep up, isn’t it? The interesting thing is that the basics and long-lived strategies haven’t changed much at all in the past 10 years. What has changed is that the tactics which were used to game the system no longer work, giving people a sense of uncertainty and the need to change strategy.
The good news is that if you stick with the basics that have always worked, you can enjoy free traffic for many years to come. The first step though, is to avoid the mistakes that many people make when they approach SEO, and that’s what this guide is all about.
Avoid these top 10 mistakes and apply our alternate strategies instead for long-term, free traffic from the search engines. Let’s get started.
Mistake #1: Not Using a Description Tag
Now this mistake isn’t going to create any penalty for your site and it also probably won’t make you rank any better, but it could cost you some click-through traffic. Always use a compelling and relevant description tag for each page of your website.
Search engines generally don’t use the description tag as a ranking factor, but many do display what is written in your description tag in their search engine results. This is what your potential visitor sees when they see your listing, so you want to ensure it’s on target, interesting and makes them want to click.
To write an effective description tag, think of the end user. If they were looking for information on a certain keyword, what would they expect to see? Include your keyword phrases as well, because they will be in bold in the search results, drawing the user’s eye to your listing. Google will show about 160 characters of your description tag, including spaces, so keep that in mind.
Mistake #2: Artificial Link Building
First it was link exchanges. Then people bought links and sought out one-way links. Now it has been proven that links you seek out yourself generally don’t carry much weight with search engines. Don’t go for the fake stuff. You would need to spend endless times on forums or commenting on blogs, hoping to grow the number of links back to your site. And while these activities can be useful to your growth and creating connections, they do nothing for your ability to rank well.
Instead, put your focus into real link building.
This means creating great content that your audience willingly shares and links to. This means building your audience and connections through social networks and other opportunities, so you have people who will gladly spread your content around. We’ll talk more about that later in this guide.
Mistake #3: Ignoring Social Media
That brings us to the next mistake, and that’s ignoring social media. Search engines are taking more and more cues from what is being shared in social media to decide what content is truly popular and what should be in their results pages.
No, that doesn’t mean you need to be on Facebook every day, but it does mean that you should at the very least offer your readers sharing options. Make it easy for them to post your content to Google+ and other social sites.
Add to that, social media provides you with the opportunity to connect with people who run websites in your niche, in addition to the people who are simply interested in your niche. Knowing these people increases your chances of getting real links to your website and that’s what we all need, right?
Mistake #4: Trying to Use an SEO Formula
If you’ve ever been told you need to mention a keyword phrase a certain number of times in your content or to follow any other formula, I’m afraid you’ve been duped. Either that, or the person who told you that, didn’t have the proper information at hand.
By using a formula, you alert search engines to the fact that you are trying to game their system and that’s not going to be good for you.
Instead, be natural in your content creation and throw away any preconceived notions of how your content should be structured.
Mistake #5: Not Making Friends in High Places
It may seem unfortunate to some, but who you know can have a great impact on how well your content does in search engines. You don’t have to befriend a celebrity, political figure or anyone like that. But the more influential friends you have, the more likely your content is to be seen on the web and in search engines.
Just think, if your friend is the top blogger in the fashion niche and she decides to share your blog post on fashion trends, you get instant credibility with your target audience and the search engines.
It may seem difficult to approach the more influential people in your niche, but the key is to open up a conversation. You can offer to help that person in some way, or better yet attend an in-person event they will be at. Face to face is still the best way to make friends. It always will be.
Remember, it takes just one connection to make many more through introductions. The more you get out there and meet people, the better your results are going to be.
Mistake #6: Worrying About Word Counts
Just like it’s an error to follow a formula, there is no reason to worry about the word count of your content. Content should simply be as long as it needs to be to make your point and be useful. Search engines don’t care if you use 300, 500 or 1500 words. The most important thing is that your content is good.
In the past, a larger word count helped you make sure that you could easily insert your keyword phrase a number of times without sounding any alarms about a high keyword density.
Today, search engines simply care if your content is good. They want to see that if people click through your link on their search engine, that the visitor stays and doesn’t click back right away. They also want to see content that is readily shared.
By worrying about word counts, you can sacrifice that quality. So put your abacus away and focus on your message instead.
Mistake #7: Lack of Unique Title Tag for Each Page
It’s a rookie mistake and people don’t make it as readily as they used to, but it still needs to be mentioned. Each page of your website should have a unique and descriptive title tag.
That means a title tag that is absolutely and completely relevant to the particular page. Include your chosen keyword phrase(s), but also make sure the title makes sense and isn’t simply a string of keyword phrases. You shouldn’t have your company or website name at the beginning of the title tag because that is the key piece of title tag real estate, and you need to use it well.
Title tags are also not only important for ranking, they can also impact your click-throughs in the same way a description tag can. It’s what people see at the top of your listing in the search engine results, so make it count. Title tags should be up to 65 characters, including spaces, to ensure your full title tag appears in the search engine results.
Mistake #8: Not Doing Keyword Research
Keyword research not only helps you optimize your content, it also helps you come up with topics for your content. You can use tools like Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery or even the free Google Keyword Tool. Analyze your competition and be realistic in the keywords you choose to optimize for…but above all, make sure your content is highly relevant for those keywords.
Mistake #9: Writing for Search Engines Instead of Humans
Following along from mistake #8, make sure you always write content for your visitors, rather than search engines. So while you want to do keyword research and use your chosen phrases in your content, it’s more important that you create useful content for humans. After all, it’s people who read our content, share it and help us rank better in the first place.
See mistake #4 (Formulas) and #6 (Word Counts) for more details.
Mistake #10: Not Updating Regularly
Search engines like to provide up-to-date and fresh content to their users. You should do likewise by keeping your site up-to-date and adding new content on a regular basis.
As you can see, there are no tricks and there is no magic to getting search engine traffic. It takes putting out solid content, making connections on the web and earning your place in the rankings. Sure, it’s hard work, but isn’t free traffic for years and years to come worth it?
It’s your business and how you run it is your business. You can attempt to game the system for a few temporary rankings now or you can avoid the top 10 mistakes and enjoy long term results. The choice is completely up to you.